Report

Senators Urge Trump to Approve Taiwan Arms Sales

Lawmakers issue bipartisan appeal amid concern the White House is abandoning Taiwan to please China.

A landing ship is surrounded by the amphibious assault vehicles during the "Han Kuang" (Han Glory) life-fire drill, some 7 kms (4 miles) from the city of Magong on the outlying Penghu islands on May 25, 2017.
Taiwan forces conducted live-fire war games in its biggest annual military exercise on May 25, presided by President Tsai Ing-wen, as the island faces growing threat from its cross-strait rival China. / AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH        (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
A landing ship is surrounded by the amphibious assault vehicles during the "Han Kuang" (Han Glory) life-fire drill, some 7 kms (4 miles) from the city of Magong on the outlying Penghu islands on May 25, 2017. Taiwan forces conducted live-fire war games in its biggest annual military exercise on May 25, presided by President Tsai Ing-wen, as the island faces growing threat from its cross-strait rival China. / AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of senators urged President Donald Trump on Friday to move ahead on delayed arms sales to Taiwan amid congressional concern the White House is ready to curry favor with Beijing at Taipei’s expense.

Four Republicans and four Democrats wrote a letter to Trump urging him to maintain firm U.S. support for Taiwan, including providing weapons it needs to defend itself against China, regardless of Washington’s diplomatic initiatives with Beijing.

“We urge you to adopt a policy of regular and consistent support for Taiwan’s self-defense efforts and not allow concerns about China to take precedence over Taiwan,” according to the letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

The senators also cite a “small” number of pending arms sales to Taiwan. The administration has yet to formally notify Congress about those sales, a critical step in proceeding with an arms deal.

“We urge your administration to send those notifications to Congress immediately,” the letter states. “While modest in scope, they represent an important marker in maintaining consistent U.S. support for Taiwan.”

Washington’s backing for Taipei is particularly important given that “China has intensified its economic coercion and military intimidation tactics” against Taiwan since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, raising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the senators wrote.

The letter reflects anxiety in Taiwan, and among some U.S. officials and lawmakers that Trump could undercut four decades of support for Taipei, by design or neglect. In April, Trump told Reuters that he would consult with Chinese President Xi Jinping before speaking to Taiwan’s president to avoid causing “difficulty” for Beijing.

“He’s a friend of mine. He’s actually a — I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader, and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that. So, I would certainly want to speak to him first,” Trump said in the Reuters interview.

The president’s comments, and the administration’s silence on the pending arms package, have raised fears in Washington that Trump could be ready to grant concessions to China without getting much in return. The president has already indicated he would be willing to back off of trade disputes or other contentious issues if China scaled back its economic ties to the North Korean regime.

Since his election in November, Trump’s stance toward China and Taiwan has shifted radically and left diplomats in Asia confused. Shortly after his electoral victory, Trump seemed to signal he was ready to confront China over Taiwan when he broke with long-established protocol and took a phone call from Taiwan’s president. But he later backed off from more calls and has dropped his threats of trade retaliation against China.

Under a long established “One China” policy, the United States only recognizes the government of Beijing. But it also provides weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense and engages in a degree of ambiguity when it comes to dealing with the government in Taipei.

The letter sent Friday was signed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.),  Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In Friday’s letter to Trump, the senators said the United States also needed to consult closely with Taiwan as it will soon need major military hardware, including new fighter jets, submarines, missile defense and electronic warfare systems.

The lawmakers proposed ending the practice of putting off U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and bundling them in a package at more convenient political moments. The approach, dating back to 2008, has proven counter-productive for both the United States and Taiwan and ended up rendering the process “overly politicized,” the letter states. Instead, the senators said the arms sales should proceed at a regular and routine pace without trying to finely calibrate the timing.

Photo credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

 

Dan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. @dandeluce

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